Small Wars Journal

The War We Have

More on the debate that has played out (and is ongoing) here at the Small Wars Journal, on the Small Wars Council discussion board and the counterinsurgency blog Abu Muqawama.

For background see Eating Soup with a Spoon by LTC Gian Gentile at Armed Forces Journal:

The Army's new manual on counterinsurgency operations (COIN), in many respects, is a superb piece of doctrinal writing. The manual, FM 3-24 "Counterinsurgency," is comparable in breadth, clarity and importance to the 1986 FM 100-5 version of "Operations" which came to be known as "AirLand Battle."

The new manual's middle chapters that pertain to the conduct of counterinsurgency operations are especially helpful and relevant to senior commanders in Iraq. But a set of nine paradoxes in the first chapter of the manual removes a piece of reality of counterinsurgency warfare that is crucial for those trying to understand how to operate within it...

LTC Gentile at World Politics Review - Misreading the Surge Threatens U.S. Army's Conventional Capabilities:

... A misleading current narrative contends that the recent lowering of violence in Iraq is primarily due to the American "surge" and the application of so-called "new" counterinsurgency methods. Because these new counterinsurgency methods have worked in Iraq, the thinking goes, why not try them in other places, such as Afghanistan? This hyper-emphasis on counterinsurgency puts the American Army in a perilous condition. Its ability to fight wars consisting of head-on battles using tanks and mechanized infantry is in danger of atrophy.

The truth is that American combat forces in Iraq have been conducting counterinsurgency operations successfully and pretty much by the book since about the middle of 2004. By that time, U.S. commanders had identified the mistakes of the first few months of the occupation, had absorbed a significant number of lessons learned from previous counterinsurgencies, and had started to train units on correct counterinsurgency methods prior to their deployments...

And this by COL Peter Mansoor at Small Wars Journal - Misreading the History of the Iraq War:

... Gentile's analysis is incorrect in a number of ways, and his narrative is heavily influenced by the fact that he was a battalion commander in Baghdad in 2006. His unit didn't fail, his thinking goes, therefore recent successes cannot be due to anything accomplished by units that came to Iraq during the Surge.

The facts speak otherwise. Gentile's battalion occupied Ameriyah, which in 2006 was an Al Qaeda safe-haven infested by Sunni insurgents and their Al Qaeda-Iraq allies. I'm certain that he and his soldiers did their best to combat these enemies and to protect the people in their area. But since his battalion lived at Forward Operating Base Falcon and commuted to the neighborhood, they could not accomplish their mission. The soldiers did not fail. The strategy did.

The "big base" strategy only changed when General Dave Petraeus and Lieutenant General Ray Odierno came to Iraq and implemented the new counterinsurgency doctrine in the recently published FM 3-24. Few U.S. Army units were implementing that doctrine as early as 2004, as Gentile claims. Some units were moving in that direction, as Colonel H. R. McMaster's accomplishments with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Tal Afar in 2005 attest. But these units were exceptions to the general rule. Most units were still more intent on finding and killing the enemy than they were on protecting the Iraqi people and making it impossible for the insurgents to survive in their midst...

Now on to The War We Have by Christopher Griffin, American Enterprise Institute (emphasis and links by SWJ):

The appointments of Gens. David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno to the head of Central Command and of Multi-National Force-Iraq, respectively, send one clear message: The surge will go on. Its two key architects and most visible proponents, after all, are now at the helm of American military operations throughout the Middle East and Iraq. But as the generals settle into another stint of command, the military is agog in debate as to the success of the surge and what it means for both the Army's future and its past.

Many of these arguments have been conducted on the Small Wars Journal website. Two leading voices so far have been Lt. Col. Gian Gentile and Col. Peter Mansoor. These two soldier-scholars are professors of military history and have combat experience in Iraq, where Gentile commanded a battalion in 2006 and Mansoor serves as Petraeus' executive officer after having commanded a brigade in 2003-2005...

Gentile and Mansoor lay out strong, contrasting views on the history of the war. Either the U.S. wasted its efforts through 2006 by executing a flawed strategy that removed American forces too quickly from the fight, or the U.S. just got lucky rather than better in 2007. Either the surge and the execution of FM 3-24 represents the culmination of years of military learning, or it is waste of military doctrine that will ultimately eat into the ability of American forces to fight conventional battles. And ultimately, either the U.S. is on the path to victory in Iraq, or else it is as contingent as ever upon the willingness of Sunni and Shiite factions to play nice....

One SWJ contributor, "Schmedlap" captures this problem when he observes that the popular narrative of the surge is unfair, but that it really does not matter that it is so: "I agree with the general theme that Iraq has not been turned around by some enlightened soldier-scholar with a Ph.D. rolling into to town and using intellect instead of firepower. That was an image that appealed to the media and academia and was politically expedient. However, Gen. Petraeus made a big difference by simply reversing the FOB consolidation trend." It may indeed not be fair, and when the military's historians review the Iraq war as it was fought year by year and town by town, they will certainly find more nuance than the current explanation that 2006 was a necessary condition before Iraq would experience its annus mirabilis in the surge. Perhaps the last sacrifice of the soldiers who fought in 2006 will be to patiently await the day that their efforts are given a full and proper accounting.

More at The War We Have.


Yes, this is the war we have, and we need to fight and win it.

Remember, we are defending our own people, with not only our way of life but our lives themselves on the line.

The linked article refers to 2006 as the nadir.
God, I hope so, I was there then.

And a lot has to do with leadership, and the change in SECDEF and Generals.

God bless all serving at all levels.


Fri, 06/13/2008 - 12:41pm

As an Iraq Campaign veteran with short stints in 2003 and 2006 and now working in the public health arena, I notice many similarities between an infectious disease like influenza and an insurgency like that found in Iraq. Both seem to develop and play out along a predictable bell curve. The vertical axis is a function of the intensity of the disease / insurgency and the horizontal axis is a function of time. The curve is such that it cannot be eliminated but through implementation of certain strategies can be steeper or shallower. There is always some level of disease / insurgency happening but certain actions can reduce the impact. The question is how do you recognize what needs to be done, when it needs to be done and with what resources.

In 2003 the curve was just beginning to form and had certain strategies been employed the height of the curve could have lowered but it still would have achieved some height. Starting with having insufficient ground forces to fill the vacuums in law and order during the summer of 2003 and followed closely by disbanding the Iraqi Army without any provisions for accountability and payment to those soldiers, the bell curve gained momentum and height. Other decisions such as the "big base" strategy and trying to hand over policing functions too early continued to contribute to the height of the curve but no actions could eliminate the curve. In 2006 the curve was at its peak and all we could do was ride out the wave. Any opportunity to flatten the curve had long passed.

By my estimation, Gens. David Petraeus and Raymond Odiernos strategy is right and effective now but they are also the beneficiaries of time and sacrifice of those soldiers that bore the brunt of the curve. To me the insurgency is clearly losing steam and the Iraqi Government is clearly gaining capacity. Soon those two graph lines should cross, assuming policy makers dont pull the rug out from under them. We have to be ready with the right strategies to deal with the "next wave".